I have been involved in bi-vocational ministry for the past 6 years. This simply means I work a normal, full-time job (for me on the faculty of a Christian university) and serve part-time in local churches. I have loved every minute in this dual ministry role.
What I do not love is the terminology: bi-vo. Bi-vo, short for bi-vocational, has a negative connotation to it. To most people in the pews it means that their pastor or church staff member is split in two. That your heart is divided. That you have to focused on one job to the detriment of the other. As if you are in a tug-of-war between two jobs – one will win, the other will lose.
While more and more churches are considering going bi-vo because of financial constraints and/or declining attendance, they feel having a bi-vo pastor or bi-vo worship leader is a sign of defeat and impending death. In all actuality, bi-vo can be a huge boost in lay-ministry involvement, community engagement and potential outreach.
Therefore, I think we need to change the language. I think we need to reframe the vision and conversation surrounding bi-vocational ministry.
From this point forward, I will use the phrase “cross-vocational” instead of bi-vo.
- Cross-vocational means you are living equally in two worlds: the marketplace and the ministry location.
- Cross-vocational means you have on-going relationships with two groups simultaneously – your brothers and sisters in Christ and those you serve in the workplace.
- Cross-vocational means you are fluid, entrepreneurial, creative, willing to be flexible, able to lead and succeed in both contexts.
Cross-vocational ministry has been the calling card of our missionaries and church planters for centuries. They all have had to work both sides of the ministry field, in the world and out of the world, serving those who have yet to hear and to those who are fully committed to Christ. I believe the cross-vocational spirit will come to more and more pastors and church leaders in the days ahead.
I believe a cross-vocational shift is coming in America for three primary reasons.
1. Significant differences between the Builders & Boomers and the X’ers and Millennials in giving and stewardship patterns will result in precipitous declines in church budgets. There will simply not be enough resources to fully-fund church staff, especially in light of health care cost. (See my recent post on the ending of full-time paid youth ministry.)
2. As evangelism and baptisms decrease, pastors and church leaders will demand freedom to engage unreached people within their communities. This access will only come from unhinging themselves from a pervasive Christian sub-culture inside the church and interacting with more non-believers out in the real world.
3. As churches streamlining and simplifying their ministry efforts and programming (aka the winnowing effect), they will have to say “no” to the secondary, more peripheral ministries in lieu of keeping the essential ministries. The end result will be less day-to-day work to do. This means less needed, fully-funded paid staff.
I do not see any way around this ministry shift.
I do see a large number of churches really struggling with this new reality. But if they want to be proactive, they might consider going cross-vo now when its their choice instead of going cross-vo later when they have no choice.
(To be continued. More on cross-vocational ministry in the days to come.)